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Pre-Registration Offered

The National Pork Producers Council will be hosting the 20th annual World Pork Expo on June 5-7, 2008, at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines. The world's largest pork industry-specific trade show and exhibition has evolved over the years, while maintaining a continued focus on the business of pork production.

Pre-registration name badges will place attendees on a first-name basis with their peers from around the globe.

More than 30,000 pork producers, exhibitors and visitors typically arrive to see the cutting-edge innovations the industry has to offer, streaming through the gates at a rate of 1,000 people/hour at peak times.

John Wrigley, World Pork Expo general manager and director of resource development for the National Pork Producers Council, says World Pork Expo has experienced a growing international presence during its 20-year history. “We are seeing both more international attendees and exhibitors,” he notes. “Close to 3,000 international attendees came to the 2007 World Pork Expo.” A pre-Expo tour has been added to help international visitors learn more about the U.S. pork industry. The tour is June 3-4, and will include visits to Iowa State University, Kemin AgriFoods, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, a feedmill and pork production facilities.

New Products Abound

Wrigley says the World Pork Expo Trade Show continually rates as one of the main reasons people come to the Expo each year. Even with the challenging economic situation, producers can learn about the science, products and partnerships that can improve their operations. The 2008 Trade Show will include more than 500 exhibitors.

Pork producers are also encouraged to attend educational seminars, take advantage of marketing and environmental information centers, take in a breed show and sale, eat a free lunch at the big grill and relax at the World Pork Open Golf Tournament or Sporting Clay Championship.

Friday evening musical entertainment will be presented, street-dance style, on the Grand Concourse beginning at 3:30 p.m. The Street Band, a rock cover band from Webster City, IA, will kick off the evening followed by country favorites Highway 101, with special guest Sweethearts of the Rodeo. The entertainment extravaganza wraps up with the headliner, Broadway Beetles Tribute.

WPX History

The first World Pork Expo was held in Des Moines in 1988. The event moved to Springfield, IL, in 1989, before heading back to Des Moines from 1990 to 1993. In 1994, 1997 and 2000, the event was held in Indianapolis, IN, before returning to its permanent home at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines in 2002. There was no World Pork Expo in 2001 due to the Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD) scare.

“To have had to cancel World Pork Expo because of FMD for one year and then have it come back and maintain its presence speaks to the strength of the show,” says Ernie Barnes, National Pork Board director of industry services, producer and industry relations and former World Pork Expo manager.

The Junior National Swine Show was added in 2004. “I think the Junior National was by far one of the most positive things added to World Pork Expo over the years,” says Barnes. “It draws 550-600 youth exhibitors to World Pork Expo each year.”

NPPC has redesigned the official World Pork Expo Web site with more details and information about the show, plus pre-registration information at www.worldpork.org. Online registration is available for advance admission purchase for $5. On-site registration is $12, and will be available at Gate 15. Registrants can pick up admission name badges at the Animal Learning Center building on the fairgrounds near Gate 15.

A full schedule of events for World Pork Expo follows on pages 67-71.

World Pork Expo Events and Times

June 5-7, Iowa State Fairgrounds, Des Moines. A full slate of events and more can be accessed at www.worldpork.org.

Trade Show

Thursday, June 5; Friday, June 6 (8 a.m. to 5 p.m.), and Saturday June 7 (8 a.m. to noon)
Varied Industries Building, Cattle Barn, Outdoors

World Pork Expo is the world's largest pork-specific trade show, with a wide array of products and services offered by over 500 exhibitors.

National Hog Farmer New Product Showcase

Thursday, June 5 and Friday, June 6 (8 a.m.to 5 p.m.)
Varied Industries Building, Meeting Room B

The New Product Showcase offers World Pork Expo attendees the opportunity to vote for the most promising new product from National Hog Farmer's New Product Tour. All voters will be entered to win a commemorative World Pork Expo toy tractor in one of three drawings per day.

Marketing Information Center

Thursday, June 5 (10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.); Friday, June 6 (10 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
Varied Industries Building, Meeting Room C

The Marketing Information Center offers producers the opportunity to learn about marketing trends that impact the bottom line. Free admission.

Thursday, June 5
10:00 a.m. to noon - Seminars sponsored by AgroSoft North America

10:00 a.m. - New Products Introduced Since Last Year - Tom Barragy, AgroSoft North America

10:30 a.m. - Implementing AgroSoft in Company Managed Farms - Joe Connor, DVM, or Mary Sawlsville, Carthage Veterinary Service, Ltd Carthage, IL

11 a.m. - Implementing the AgroSoft Programs and New Features - Paul Fredsted and Jon Tomsen, AgroSoft North America

11:30 a.m. to noon - Questions and Answers

Noon to 2:30 p.m. - National Pork Board Lunch and Market Outlook, Moderator: Jamey Tosh, Tosh Farms

  • Weather Situation and Outlook for Summer 2008, Elwynn Taylor, Iowa State University

  • Outlook for Feed Costs in 2008-09 and Beyond - Steve Meyer, Paragon Economics, Inc.

  • Hog and Pork Economic Outlook - Glenn Grimes, University of Missouri

Friday, June 6
10:00 a.m. to noon — Seminars sponsored by AgriSoft North America

10 a.m. - New Products Introduced Since Last Year - Tom Barragy, AgroSoft North America

10:30 a.m. - Implementing AgroSoft in Company-Managed Farms - Joe Connor, DVM, or Mary Sawlsville, Carthage Veterinary Service, Ltd., Carthage, IL

11 a.m. - Implementing the AgroSoft Programs and New Features - Paul Fredsted and Jon Tomsen, AgroSoft North America

11:30 a.m. - Questions and Answers

Noon to 2:30 p.m. - National Pork Board Lunch and Market Outlook, Moderator: Gene Nemechek, Genetic Improvement, Inc.

  • Weather Situation and Outlook for Summer 2008, Elwynn Taylor, Iowa State University

  • Outlook for Feed Costs in 2008-09 and Beyond - Steve Meyer, Paragon Economics, Inc.

  • Hog and Pork Economic Outlook - Glenn Grimes, University of Missouri

3:00 to 5:00 p.m. - The Ins and Outs of Electronic Sow Feeding - seminars sponsored by Nedap Agri, North America

3:00 p.m. - The Start-Up - Gary Wyse, Nedap Agri, North America

3:30 p.m. - Why You Need Velos - Gerard Weijers, Nedap Agri, North America

4:00 p.m. - Group Housing for Sows - How to Do It! - Kase van Ittersum, Nedap Agri, North America

4:30 p.m. - Ventilation - Tim Kurbi, Nedap Agri, North America

Educational Seminars & Employee Seminars

Cattle Barn Sales Arena: Free producer education seminars are some of the best-attended events at the World Pork Expo. Learn about animal health, tips to improve daily gain, and learn the ins and outs of working with employees.

Educational Seminars

Thursday, June 5 (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.)
10:00 a.m. to noon — Seminars sponsored by Intervet, A Schering-Plough Company

10 a.m. - Circovirus Before and After the Outbreak, Pat Graham, DVM, Pittsfield, IL, Ghrist Veterinary Clinic.

10:30 a.m. - Optimizing PCV2 Vaccine Efficacy, Brad Thacker, DVM, Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health.

1 to 3 p.m. - Seminars sponsored by Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc.

1 p.m. - Increase Profits in 2008: The Stuff That's Not on the Typical Lists - Dennis DiPietre, Economist

1:40 p.m. - Diagnosing and Managing Illeitis in Today's Tight Economic Climate - Sarah Probst Miller, DVM, Carthage Veterinary Service, Ltd., Carthage, IL

2 p.m. - Vaccinating to Reduce PCVAD in Large Production Systems, A Case Study - Doug King, DVM, Cargill

Employee Seminars

Thursday, June 5
3 to 5 p.m. — Seminars sponsored by the National Pork Board

3 p.m. - Cultural Diversity - Orlando Gil, Hawkeye Sow Centers

3:40 p.m. - Occupational Health & Safety - Kelly Donham, University of Iowa

4:20 p.m. - Hearing Protection - Michael Humann, University of Iowa

Friday, June 6 (10 a.m. to Noon)
10:00 a.m. to noon - Seminars sponsored by the National Pork Board

10 a.m. - Risk Management: Chicago Mercantile Exchange:

Grain Outlook - Steve Meyer, Paragon Economics, Inc.Strategies to Improve Production Costs and Efficiencies - Mike Brumm, Brumm Swine Consultancy, Inc.

Environmental Information Center

Thursday, June 5 (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.)
10:00 a.m. to noon — Seminars sponsored by Alltech, Inc.

10 a.m. - Yucca and Odor Control: A Modern Perspective on Quality Control, Efficacy and Cost Reduction - Paul Gorenewegen, Technical Sales, Alltech, Inc., Canada

10:45 a.m. - Dramatically Lower Excretion Levels and Costs, Improved Reproductive Performance and Longevity with Improved Energy Utilization through Organic Mineral Use - Fact or Fantasy? - Jeremy Burkett, Iowa State University

11:30 p.m. - Solutions to Decrease Mineral Excretion and Lower Feeding Costs - A Practical Approach - James Pierce, Coordinator of Monogastric Research, Alltech, Inc.

1 p.m. to 3 p.m. — Seminars sponsored by BASF Plant Science, LLC

1 p.m. - Practical Feeding Programs for the Environment - Tom Deters, marketing manager, FS Total Livestock Services, Effingham, IL

2 p.m. - Research Applications for Managing the Environmental Footprint of Swine Production - Joel DeRouchey, Extension Swine Specialist, Kansas State University

Friday, June 6 (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.)
10 a.m. to noon — Seminars sponsored by Slurrystore

10 a.m. - Anaerobic Digesters - Where Waste Management Equals Energy Generation, David Palmer, BioPower, Franklin, TN.

10:40 a.m. - Save Big Money on Fertilizer While Keeping Your Neighbors Happy, Bill Campion, Pro-Act.

11:20 a.m. - Effective Manure Management Solutions, Steve Oracz, Market Development, Parkson Agricultural Group.

1 p.m to 3 p.m. — Seminars sponsored by the National Pork Board

1 p.m. - Facility Siting, Larry Jacobsen, University of Minnesota.

1:40 p.m. - How to Make EQIP Work for You, Dennis Pate, Validus.

2:10 p.m. - Odor Mitigation Technologies/Environmental Stewards Showcase - (2005) Randy Brown, Maken' Bacon Farms, Nevada, OH; (2006) Henry Moore, Bobcat Farms, Clinton, NC; and (2007) Loren Keppy, Keppy Farm, Durant, IA.

World Pork Expo Industry Tour

Tuesday, June, 3 and Wednesday, June 4

Includes visits to Iowa State University, Kemin AgriFoods, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, a feedmill and pork production facilities.

Lunch at the Big Grill

Thursday, June 5; Friday, June 6; and Saturday, June 7, 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., Fairgrounds Triangle

Enjoy a fabulous pork lunch every day at the Big Grill. There is such a thing as a free lunch when you visit the World Pork Expo Big Grill!

World Pork Expo Musical Entertainment

Friday, June 6 (3 to 8 p.m.)

Three musical acts will take the stage beginning with the Street Band from Webster City, IA, performing rock and roll favorites, followed by country legends Highway 101, with special guest Sweethearts of the Rodeo. Topping off the night will be the ever-popular Broadway Beatles Tribute.

World Pork Expo Open 2008 Golf Outing

Friday, June 6 (8:30 a.m. registration and free range balls; 9:30 a.m. shotgun start):
Briarwood Golf Course, Ankeny, IA

A World Pork Expo favorite! Reservations will be accepted for the first 144 golfers. Cost is $125 per golfer. Sign up a foursome or register individually by calling John Wrigley at 417-451-6004, or email wrigleyj@nppc.org. Download a registration form at https://www.worldpork.org/pdfs/events/WPO-Entry-Form.pdf.

World Pork Open Clay Target Championship

Thursday, June 5
New Pioneer Gun Club, Waukee, IA

Sign up for a five-person team shootout. This is a “don't miss” World Pork Expo event. Contact Craig Boelling at 515-278-8012, or email boellingc@nppc.org. Download a registration form at https://www.worldpork.org/pdfs/events/WPOCTC-Reg-Form.pdf.

National Swine Registry's America's Best Genetics

Thursday, June 5; Friday, June 6; and Saturday, June 7, during trade show hours
Cattle Barn

Learn about the best swine genetics available by taking a trip through the National Swine Registry's America's Best Genetics section in the Cattle Barn. Learn more at https://www.worldpork.org/pdfs/events/AGB-Blurb.pdf or visit www.nationalswine.com.

Farm Toy Show and Sale

Thursday, June 5 through Saturday, June 7, during trade show hours
Cattle Barn

Presented by the National Farm Toy Museum, the World Pork Expo Farm Toy Show and Sale offers many displays of farm toys and memorabilia for sale.

PigCasso Art Show

Thursday, June 5 through Saturday, June 7, during trade show hours
Cattle Barn Main Entrance

Pig images in a variety of media will be on display in this unique traditional show. Artists vie for cash prizes and ribbons. Expo attendees may vote for their favorite artwork in the Audience Choice Award.

Great Pork BarbeQlossal

Saturday, June 7 (Judging starts at 11 a.m., prizes awarded at 3:30 p.m.)
South of the Varied Industries Building

The nation's best barbequers will vie for a share of more than $37,500 in cash prizes and national competition points in this World Pork Expo tradition. Contestants will bring their custom-made grills and sauces to compete in the categories of whole hog, ribs, loin and shoulder and showmanship.

Pig Races

Thursday, June 5; and Friday June 6 (8 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
Saturday, June 7 (8 a.m. to noon)
Cattle Barn (Northeast Corner)

Racing pigs will hoof around a sawdust track at blazing speeds. It will be fun for the entire family.

World Pork Expo Merchandise Shop

Thursday, June 5 through Saturday,June 7 during trade show hours.
Varied Industries Building (South Foyer)

Shop for exclusive World Pork Expo apparel and merchandise. Take home a souvenir!

2008 World Pork Expo Swine Show and Sale

Friday, June 6; Saturday, June 7
Swine Barn

The 2008 World Pork Expo Swine Show and Sale features the nation's top producers of purebred Berkshire, Chester White, Duroc, Hampshire, Landrace, Poland China, Spotted and Yorkshire boars and gilts. For details, registration information and schedules, visit www.nationalswine.com.

Show Schedule

Thursday, June 5

8:00 a.m. - All hogs must be on the grounds for check-in and scanning of boars.

Friday, June 6

7:30 a.m. - Ring A

Yorkshire show, followed by Landrace, Duroc and Hampshire boars and gilts; crossbred boars

9:00 a.m. - Ring B

Berkshire show, followed by Poland China, Spotted and Chester White.

Saturday, June 7

9:00 a.m. - Ring A

Yorkshire sale, followed by Landrace, Duroc and Hampshire boars and gilts; crossbred boars; and crossbred gilts from WPX Junior National only.

10:00 a.m. - Ring B

Berkshire sale, followed by Poland China, Spotted and Chester White.

2008 World Pork Expo Junior National Swine Show

Wednesday, June 4; Thursday, June 5; andFriday, June 6, Swine Barn

One of the top youth shows in the nation, the Junior National Swine Show has entrants vying for swine and showmanship awards. For more information and schedules, visit the Junior National Swine Association Web site at http://www.nationalswine.com/njsa/njsaShowsEvents/08_wpx_junior_national.html.

Wednesday, June 4

7:30 to 9:30 a.m.

Registration and declaration of market-entry weights.

9 a.m. All World Pork Expo Junior National entries must be on the grounds.

11:30 a.m. - Mandatory exhibitor meeting by show ring.

Noon

Ring B - Crossbred Barrow Show, followed by Purebred Barrow Show.

Ring A - Berkshire, Chester White, Poland China and Spotted.

Ring B - Duroc, Hampshire, Landrace and Yorkshire.

Thursday, June 5

8:00 a.m. - Junior and Senior Showmanship Contest

Ring A - Senior, followed by Intermediate.

Ring B - Junior, followed by Novice.

1 p.m. - Purebred Gilt Show

Ring A - Berkshire, Chester White, Poland China and Spotted

Ring B - Duroc, Hampshire, Landrace and Yorkshire, followed by the Crossbred Breeding Gilt Show (first- and second-place crossbred gilts will be offered in the sale).

Friday, June 6

8 to 9:30 a.m. - Judging Contest registration by judging rings

10 a.m. - Judging Contest

12:30 p.m. - Novice Judging Contest

4 p.m. - Sweepstakes Ceremony

All World Pork Expo Junior National hogs are released after the Sweepstakes Ceremony, but are encouraged to stay through Saturday for the World Pork Expo Purebred Sale. For more Junior National Information, call 965-463-3594 or email jennifer@nationalswine.com.

World Pork Expo visitiors can pre-register online at www.worldpork.org and have namebadges sent in advance, or pick them up at the Animal Learning Center inside of Gate 15.

Illinois Pork, Packers, Politics and Mini-Building Boom

Illinois  Pork, Packers, Politics and Mini-Building Boom

If there were a contest to name the ideal place to raise hogs, longtime Illinois pork producer Art Lehmann believes his state is as competitive as any location in the world.

“Even though grain inputs are much higher than they were, they are still as competitively priced here — if not lower priced — than for a lot of other people raising pigs, like in Europe, for example,” Lehmann says.

Illinois ranks number two behind Iowa as the country's top corn and soybean producing state. Last year, Illinois farmers harvested 13.1 million acres of corn and 8.2 million acres of soybeans with average yields of 175 and 43 bu./acre, respectively.

Not only does the state's rich, black soil provide for abundant feed supplies, it offers an excellent waste management tool for livestock producers. “We have a good land base for applying manure,” notes Lehmann of Strawn.

“There's a tremendous value increase in manure,” he says. “I have neighbors calling me today wanting to buy manure, whereas I couldn't give it away five years ago.”

Lehmann's confidence in his home state is reflected in his actions. During the past five years, he and his brother, Ken, have expanded from 1,500 sows at the family's home farm to 7,500 sows on farms in central and southern Illinois, plus one site in Missouri. All of the operation's pigs are finished at contract sites in central Illinois.

Feed Prices Equal to Iowa

Conventional wisdom says Illinois pork producers pay more for feed than their counterparts in Iowa.

“In Illinois, we have a very good river system; it is a lot less costly to ship grain by barge to New Orleans than by truck or rail, so grain prices have been higher here,” says Bob Johnson, who owns a 1,300-head, farrow-to-finish operation in DeKalb with his sister, Carol Johnson, and sister and brother-in-law, Peggy and Steve Pate, DVM.

But Iowa's booming ethanol industry is changing the playing field, according to Johnson. “Finishing pigs in Iowa isn't nearly as advantageous as it used to be, because the corn price is just as high there as it is here,” he says. Iowa currently has 29 ethanol refineries operating, and Illinois has just eight.

Last year, corn was still about a nickel lower in Iowa than in Illinois, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). But if you look at what's happening so far this year — especially in some regions of the two states — Johnson's point is revealed.

For example, this March, elevators in northwest Iowa offered high bids of 17 to 34¢ more per bushel than elevators in northern Illinois, where Johnson lives, according to the USDA's Livestock and Grain Market News.

Compare that to March of 2000, when northern Illinois elevators were paying 8 to 13¢ more per bushel than buyers in northwestern Iowa.

Iowa's favorable feed prices were a big enticement when John Kellogg, of Yorkville, IL, was looking for a place to finish pigs weaned at the 1,500-sow, farrow-to-finish enterprise he owns with his wife, Jan.

In 1999, the Kelloggs landed an opportunity to rent six finishing facilities in north central Iowa. Today, they have roughly 17,000 pigs on feed in Iowa at any given time.

“When we first started finishing pigs in Iowa, corn was about 50¢ a bushel lower there,” says Kellogg, who buys about 300,000 bushels of corn annually.

However, since the Kelloggs started shipping weaned pigs to Iowa, an ethanol plant was built a short distance from the feedmill that supplies their corn. “Now, corn is not any cheaper there than it is in our own backyard,” he says.

“Really, though, it doesn't matter if you are in Illinois or Iowa, the ethanol industry has created huge challenges for the livestock industry,” Kellogg concludes.

Clear Regulatory Guidelines

How does Illinois' regulatory environment stack up for producers wishing to build or expand facilities?

“If you have a good site, it can be a friendly environment,” Lehmann says.

Illinois adopted a Livestock Management Facilities Act in 1996 (amended in 1998 and 1999) that put into law specific procedures and criteria for the design, construction and operation of livestock management and waste handling facilities. (See below for livestock rules.)

“People from other states who come into Illinois say our guidelines are pretty straightforward,” says Lehmann. “In some states, there is too much subjective opinion on who does or doesn't get a permit.”

Johnson points out that complying with the act isn't a guarantee against controversy. He tells of a neighbor who met the current regulations, but eventually dropped the project after unhappy neighbors convinced a court to grant an injunction to delay construction. “He had the permit to build, but local politics put enough pressure on him that he eventually gave up,” Johnson says.

Packer Options

Illinois has three primary packer options: Cargill's Excel plant at Beardstown, where 18,000 hogs are processed daily; Smithfield's Farmland Foods plant at Monmouth, with a daily capacity of 11,000; and the producer-owned cooperative Meadowbrook Farms, which processes about 3,500 head daily at its plant in Rantoul. Triumph Foods of St. Joseph, MO, is also scheduled to open a new plant in East Moline, IL, in mid 2010. (See page 44.)

Although there are just a few packers within Illinois' borders, Lehmann points out there are many options within a reasonable trucking distance, including several packers in Iowa and Indiana. A portion of his pigs go to Indiana Packers in Delphi, IN, and Meadowbrook Farms, with the majority going to Cargill at Beardstown, IL.

Cargill spokesperson Mark Klein says Illinois' robust swine industry is a “very important” resource to Cargill's pork business. Cargill purchased the Beardstown plant from Oscar Mayer in 1987. In 1995, Cargill doubled the processing capacity, moving from one to two shifts per day. Currently, the plant employs 2,200 people.

According to Klein, about 55-60% of the 18,000 hogs processed daily come from Illinois producers. The rest are from Iowa, Missouri, Indiana and Michigan.

Klein strikes a comparison between the Illinois plant and a plant Cargill purchased in Marshall, MO, in 1995, where the company later ceased slaughtering because of poor hog availability.

At Beardstown, “we can still get the hogs we need to run our business,” Klein says.

John Kellogg has one final thought on notable strengths of the state's pork industry. He points out Illinois' rich heritage of progressive-thinking producers. “We live in the legacy of people like George Brauer, Russ Jeckel and Willard Korsmeyer,” he says. “These are people who could see the benefits of confinement and were willing to be pioneers to develop many of the practices we use today.”

Producer Group Goes on Offense

For years, county and state pork producer groups have used grilling events to promote pork. In 2007, the Illinois Pork Producers Association (IPPA) launched Operation Impact, using producer messages to market the product, but also the families that produce the pork, says Tim Maiers, IPPA director of Public Relations.

Generations of Commitment is a tagline that IPPA developed to help convey the story that Illinois producers are committed to the environment, food safety, animal welfare and all those production issues they've focused on for generations.

“In the past at consumer shows, we really haven't had production-type information available; we've always talked about the finished product,” Maiers points out. “We haven't really tried to make the connection that here's the product, and here are the families who are producing the products.”

Producers and the IPPA board are tired of being on the defensive. They felt this might be a way to be proactive and ultimately educate consumers about what Illinois producers are doing for the long term.

Open houses for new hog buildings have drawn large, interested audiences, many of whom have never seen or held a live pig or have any idea of production practices.

Farmfest brought 90, 4th-grade Chicago schoolchildren to the John Kellogg farm at Yorkville, IL, where they asked lots of questions. “I think we assume consumers know about pigs, but often they don't even know we are raising pigs for food,” Maiers says.

Mike Borgic, eldest son of IPPA President Phil Borgic, was added to the staff in mid-December as director of Membership & Outreach. His job is a tough one: keep all 1,191 producer and allied industry members of the association and grow that number, while serving as a sounding board for those who call in to air their concerns.

Economic uncertainty may spawn a lot of producer calls to the IPPA offices in Springfield.

Jim Kaitschuk, IPPA executive director, says hopes are that some producer risk management seminars can soon be developed, and podcasts set up for those who can't get access to the information.

It couldn't come too soon as breakeven costs approach $80/cwt., he says. “This is a time when we need to be out there talking to producers to find out what they want us to develop for them, and not just sit in our offices waiting for the calls to come in.”

*Karen Bernick is a freelance writer from Long Grove, IA.

Rest Rejuvenates Pigs Hauled Long Distances

With a growing number of feeder and weaner pigs making the long trek from North Carolina to Midwest hog farms, a researcher at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service stationed at Purdue University wanted to know the impact those long hauls had on pig health.

Using a research grant from the National Pork Board, investigator Susan Eicher designed a study to determine if rest (mid-journey lairage) would improve pig health.

Four replications were conducted, one during each season of the year in January, April, August and October. Fifty-lb. pigs were housed in 16 pens (13 to 16 pigs/pen) with eight pens/treatment, says Eicher.

Two groups with lairage or rested pigs were transported for eight hours, given a rest with food and water for eight hours, then transported eight hours.

Two groups were continuously transported for 16 hours (without rest). Groups were not mixed prior to or after transport from the Purdue Swine Research Farm.

Truck temperatures varied with the seasons. Body weight loss was not different between treatment groups. Behavior was evaluated by scan sampling of the pens prior to and after transport.

The groups of continuously transported pigs drank more water and walked more following transport.

The lairage groups showed avoidance to eat and drink that varied by season of the year.

Health Differences

After the tests, pigs were off-loaded into grower barns at the Purdue facility. Blood samples were obtained from eight pigs in each treatment group and those pigs were humanely euthanized to obtain tissue samples.

Rest stops did make a difference in the health of the groups, according to Eicher. “We saw with the continuously transported pigs things you would expect to see — stress and immune measures reflecting the transport stress (increased white blood cell counts),” she says.

In continuously transported pigs, total white blood cell count was higher on Day 1 following transport than lairage pigs. Levels of monocytes (large white blood cells) also rose, becoming “antigen-presenting cells,” which is a sign that stress has caused a change in immune functions.

Blood samples were taken at Day 7 following transport, which showed continuing changes in immune responses of continuously transported pigs.

Additionally, the microbial population measures also indicated differences in intestinal microbial populations between the two treatments, indicating that the degree of stress may be affecting this variable, explains Eicher.

Tests of bacteria in pigs' intestines also revealed a shift and decrease in intestine microbial populations from Day 1 up to Day 14 following transport in the non-rested pig groups, indicating pig health could be compromised. “We didn't see big differences in the presence of salmonella organisms, but fewer bacterial populations have the possibility to lead to compromised gut health,” she says.

Further, she adds: “Alterations in microbial populations could alter the ability of the pig to use the nutrients that it eats. This study indicates that extended transport without lairage alters few behaviors, but changes the microbial populations of the jejunum and cecum (intestine) and the microbial populations of jejunum, ileum and cecum tissues, and alters innate immune functions that may cause greater susceptibility to pathogens.

“Overall, in this setting of a controlled lairage environment without mixing the pigs, lairage lessened changes after transport,” Eicher concludes.

The researcher is currently conducting similar transportation trials using weaned pigs, and also testing the value of yeast products in helping pigs cope with weaning and transport stress.

Send research submissions to Joe Vansickle, Senior Editor (952) 851-4670; jvansickle@nationalhogfarmer.com

Pew Commission Report is Tainted

Recommendations for improvements in livestock production from a group composed mainly of individuals opposed to modern livestock production would do little other than raise the cost of producing food and increase meat prices in the face of a global food crisis, according to the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC).

Based on its $3.4 million, two-year study of the impact of livestock production practices, the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production recommended phasing out certain production practices, banning certain animal antibiotics and placing new restrictions on the use of manure.

NPPC responded that the commission's findings overlook substantial progress the pork industry has made in all of those key areas.

“Pork producers have taken extensive steps over the last decade to meet various industry challenges,” declares NPPC President Bryan Black, Canal Winchester, OH.

For example, data from eight of the top 10 swine-producing states shows that since 2000, less than 1% of hog farms have had an accidental release of manure.

NPPC also pointed out that a tough new federal water pollution rule covering confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), due out late this summer, will protect water resources from pollution by large livestock operations by imposing a zero discharge policy. Most swine CAFOs already comply with this rule.

Further, the Environmental Protection Agency recently commissioned a first-of-its kind, livestock industry-supported study to determine the level of air pollution from all types of livestock operations. Its findings will help ensure air emissions from livestock operations don't harm the environment.

The Pew commission's call for a ban on subtherapeutic drugs would cause more pig deaths and an increase in the use of therapeutic drugs, says NPPC. Both actions would cause a rise in pork prices.

In response to the commission's portrayal of large animal feeding operations as bad for the rural economy, NPPC pointed out that pork operations alone generate more than 550,000 mostly rural jobs and add about $20.7 billion of personal income and $34.5 billion of gross national product to the economy.

NPPC also questioned the balance of the commission's members.

“There was a lack of balance among commission members, and the commission's work was directed by a group unfriendly to animal agriculture,” says Black. “As a result, in its deliberations, the commission did not give adequate weight to the views of the numerous credible voices from within commercial animal agriculture who shared the commission's objectives for a livestock sector that is protective of the environment, food safety, public health and animal welfare.

“Lastly, it's hard for us to react to the substance of the commission report because it failed to issue all but one of its technical papers,” adds Black. “The lack of serious, fact-based findings and apparent reliance on numerous anecdotal, non-peer reviewed allegations only confirms our perception that the report recommendations were largely predetermined.”

Illinois Producers Ponder Future

Bible Pork Inc.

Bible Pork Inc., based in Louisville, IL, was The Maschhoffs' first sow farm contractor, starting out as a 500-sow, farrow-to-wean operation. In 1997, Bible Pork also built a 2,400-sow, farrow-to-wean facility. This former PIC user group had found a new partner.

Bible Pork became the major multiplication system for The Maschhoffs, based in Carlyle, IL, producing replacement gilts for the other sow farms in the system, utilizing two other sow sites constructed in 1999-2001 and 2006. The operation now boasts 60 employees and close to 13,000 sows.

Bible Pork produces more than 300,000, 21-day-old weaned pigs that are fed out in other Maschhoff contract finishing units, says owner Matt Bible.

Bible, 40, has been pleased with the contracting arrangement with The Maschhoffs because the business is family-oriented, not like a big corporation, but just like he runs his own family business.

For Matt, the beauty of that agreement is that it involves shared risk. The Maschhoffs supply pigs, feed, veterinary care and marketing, while his team, headed up by production manager Kevin Van Dyke, provides the buildings and equipment, labor force and manure application services.

He says that despite the economic downturn, there are no plans to cut sow numbers at Bible Pork.

With input costs as high as they are, however, manure will become increasingly important. Manure is applied using a dragline hose injection system on nearby cropland. Bible Pork continues to work with other area farmers so they can reduce input costs and gain the benefits that manure offers, just as Bible Pork's grain operation has.

Biosecurity is a high priority for a multiplication system. The farm sites around Louisville are isolated from other hog farms, and visitors are restricted. Units are shower in and shower out. Large signs are posted at the driveway entrances to prohibit visitors. There has been only one PRRS (porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome) break since the sow contract business started, Matt says.

Bible Pork is owned by Matt and his wife, Jan, and Matt's parents, Jerry and Carolyn. Matt's brother, Monte Bible, has worked for the company for several years.

“The success of our company, Bible Pork, has been due to all of our employees and their hard work,” says Matt, who manages a finishing barn for The Maschhoffs, while Kevin oversees sow operations as he has for the last 16 years. Derek Iffert and his team manage the grain operations and handle all of the manure application. Curtis Frost handles the company's finances.

TriOak Foods

Tucked away in southeast Iowa at Oakville, scarcely five miles from the Illinois border, is the home of TriOak Foods, a company that dates back to the 1950s when it started as a produce, cream and egg business. Through the years it served as a major feed manufacturer and country elevator.

Then came the early 1980s, when quite a few customers were forced out of the livestock business. The company started a small pig contracting enterprise, buying feeder pigs for the customers to finish out. From the start, these customers were located in both Illinois and Iowa. Business grew on both sides of the border.

Today the business stands at 35,000 sows, producing over 22 pigs/sow/year across the entire system, reports Al Muhlenbruck, TriOak's marketing and public relations manager. Half of those sow operations are based in Illinois. TriOak has assisted customers in both states with construction of wean-to-finish facilities. The company provides those customers with 18- to 21-day-old weaned pigs to finish out in their 1,200- to 2,480-head barns.

“We currently prefer 2,480-head, wean-to-finish sites, which is about one week's production out of a 5,000-sow farm,” he explains.

The basic contract calls for the company to supply feed, veterinary care and marketing services, etc., while the contract growers provide the facilities, necessary land for capture of manure value and care for the pigs.

The company prides itself on operating a Pure Pork System. This system consists of contracting acres for the production of identity-preserved corn hybrids, to supply the mill and nutritionists with consistent, quality, locally grown corn.

TriOak ran an advertisement in the Burlington, IA, newspaper recently, that graphically explains its sustainable nutrient management process as a means to educate its neighbors, attract contract growers and explain that the goal of the system is to produce meat in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner. “On a wean-to-finish barn, after you pay the application costs of that manure, you've got a little over $100/acre of value that stays here in the local community, and everybody benefits,” he adds.

The ultimate goal of the ads (there will be more) is to promote how pork is raised. Ads will educate area citizens on how TriOak contributes financially to local communities.

TriOak currently has about 150 contract growers, some dating back to the 1980s; some of these older relationships still have grow-finish barns, so these producers get feeder pigs.

“We have done whatever we can to continue the relationships with our customers,” Muhlenbruck says.

The company plans to continue its growth in the next five years, and be integrally involved in siting contract barns.

“We have encouraged people to move planned facilities because they were too close to sensitive areas, and there have been some sites where we've told people they shouldn't build,” he says.

Along with siting responsibility, TriOak started doing its own environmental audits of contract sites, he adds. “We have some of the best contractors in the world, but sometimes small things can be overlooked, so our goal is to assist our growers wherever possible to ensure environmental stewardship.”

One priority of those audits is to ensure that every dollar of yield is obtained out of the manure produced. TriOak field specialists will analyze pits to determine the actual nutrient profile and ensure proper field application.

Pit levels are monitored and recorded to ensure they don't get too full in the fall when contractors are spending a lot of time on the combine.

“Together, the company and its contractors must manage all areas of environmental stewardship. While contractors are responsible for preparing their own manure management plans, application and general stewardship, TriOak provides assistance through its specialists as needed.

“Manure is the purest hedge that the pig farmer has against rising energy costs if managed and applied correctly,” Muhlenbruck says. The company has a certified crop advisor on staff to help growers reduce input costs, maximize yields and efficiencies, and utilize best management practices.

“On the production side, it has never been more important to know and deliver what your customers and consumers desire. Today, total buy in and implementation of the Pork Quality Assurance-Plus program is essential. TriOak stands solidly with the industry and has adapted production practices and educational programs that not only help assure the consumer that the product is raised correctly, but it's also safe. Improvements in animal well-being equate to improvements in efficiency,” he says.

For top health, pig flow at all contract barns is all-in, all-out, and cleaned, washed and disinfected before another group of pigs is fed out.

Biosecurity is an imperfect science. For instance, many systems require 72 hours away from pigs before visiting a sow farm. Extra precautions are taken at TriOak for the worker who stops at a convenience store near a packing plant, which truckers are known to frequent, on his way to work at one of the sow farms. “Our system audits and process evaluation is constantly on the lookout for the ‘unexpected or overlooked’ details that may reduce risk,” Muhlenbruck explains.

As the system grows, milling capacity must be increased. TriOak is considering expansion of its milling capacity. Plans are to build a second mill either in west central Illinois or near Burlington, IA. The main criteria for its location include quality of roads, infrastructure, availability of feedstuffs and personnel. While both Illinois and Iowa have road issues in general, the state of Illinois does have some serious road problems to work through in the future. Many secondary roads are in dire need of modernization (many are only 20 ft. wide), and the manner of funding down at the township level is in need of evaluation and change, he explains.

As the sow herd expands in Illinois and Iowa, plans are to build new sow barns with wider stalls that can be converted to pens as needed.

But Muhlenbruck says he has serious concerns that the U.S. pork industry can manage sows in pens and improve animal well-being strictly due to group housing. Pen size alone is not a guarantee of sow well-being.

The Maschhoffs

This 110,000-sow system based in Carlyle, IL, has several hundred production partners, many of whom are located throughout Illinois.

Bradley Wolter, chief operating officer, says no mandate has been issued to lower production costs, but there has been a reemphasis on best management practices throughout the production company from operations in Illinois to Iowa, Missouri and Oklahoma.

Wolter cautions against the wisdom of cutting too many corners. “I think we need to be careful from a pig production perspective, because it's tempting to say, ‘let's cut back on ventilation, let's reduce the amount of feed;’ and I think at the end of the day, we just need to remember that this is a biological organism and it functions in a systematic way.

“For instance, we can certainly cut environmental temperature, but the pig is going to have to make up for that in the form of heat production, and then we are going to be putting more $5 corn through these animals to keep them warm.”

He says a better strategy is to beef up execution and look to new technology that may help improve efficiency.

Julie Maschhoff, head of the communications department and public relations division at The Maschhoffs, finds it ironic that as high corn prices have hurt production operations, they have also highlighted the value of manure as fertilizer.

It is only through the use of confinement hog barns, maligned by activists and some consumers, that the pork industry has been able to efficiently capture the value of manure, she says.

Opponents also fail to recognize the worth to the community from The Maschhoffs' operations, which, based on an Iowa State University study, provide $1.5 billion in economic impact throughout the Midwest and combine the buying power of its 540 employees and allied businesses. More than 2,500 people depend directly on The Maschhoffs network, including its production partners, and the various businesses that contract for various services, Julie says.

A series of “Did You Know” posters are plastered around the offices of The Maschhoffs, reflecting the trickle down effect: the six-to-one return of the hog production business to Midwest consumers.

To provide some protection from hog market fluctuations, CEO Ken Maschhoff says in 2004 the 150-year-old family business started diversifying outside agriculture in early 2008. A flashlight startup company, First Light USA, was developed. The Maschhoffs also became the largest shareholders in 110-year-old Potter Electric of St. Louis.

Ken says quite frankly these changes are in response to the increasing fragility of the pork complex, including wide swings in the corn prices which, if sustained, could turn the United States into a corn-importing nation and destroy future pork exports.

He says expansion in the hog business, now on hold for the company, has become more difficult in Illinois of late. “We have not grown as fast in Illinois in the last three years as we have in Iowa; we have constructed a lot more new buildings in Iowa.”

Also, Ken says that Illinois is not viewed as a pro-business state, with a number of corporations migrating to neighboring states, compounded by a number of negative taxes being proposed in the last few years. In 2004, the governor proposed a 6.5% sales tax to be placed on all industrial inputs including seed, feed, chemicals and fertilizer that would have been “catastrophic for agriculture.” It was proposed again in 2007 but beaten back with vigorous effort.

Ken adds: “But the really big proposal was a gross receipts tax that was based on how much you sell, not on your income or how much you sell at a profit.

“So, for instance, we at The Maschhoffs would have been paying a large amount of sales tax in 2008 because gross sales may have been through the roof, maybe our highest ever because pork prices will probably go up as input costs go up, but we will have a year that will probably be in the red,” he explains.

Considering the problems of both permitting and the politics of Chicago, Ken says, “While we want to continue to explore all potential production partners/sites in Illinois, we expect a greater percentage of any future hog growth will probably take place outside the state of Illinois.”

Phil Borgic

The economic climate in Illinois and other states worries Phil Borgic, too, who owns a 3,000-sow, breed-to-wean operation near Nokomis, IL.

He's had eight contracted customers who have been buying 14 lb., 21-day-old weaned pigs to finish out on their farms. They include some who have sow herds of their own and want to finish more pigs, and others who've gotten out of sows to finish out pigs exclusively.

Borgic prides himself on delivering healthy pigs to his producer-customers every eight weeks. Now that business model may need to be changed.

“It is possible that we may need to get back into finishing because of the economic situation,” he says. “Everybody is struggling with finishing, and for financial reasons, we may need to start finishing again.

“People are quitting pork production. So far we have only lost one customer out of eight, but who knows what the next phone call might be,” says the 52-year-old producer.

Back in 1998-99, when single-digit hog prices forced thousands of hog producers out of business, Borgic switched his operation from farrow to finish to breed to wean, and was able to survive the market crash.

This time, the uncertainty is just as great. He's heard stories about sow farms losing all their weaned pig contracts and buyers bargaining for lower-priced pigs.

So far that hasn't happened to him, but he's been calling around to find out what finishing spaces might be available and what packer might buy his pigs.

Borgic says he's also working on a different way to price his pigs, at a time when both he and the finisher are losing money. His breakeven is now $38 and the contract calls for selling weaned pigs for $36.60. After the weaners are finished with high-priced feed, they are being sold at a significant loss. His weaned pig prices are based on six-month futures for October, which guarantee him a loss, too.

While one of the ways out may be for him to return to finishing the pigs, he admits he doesn't relish the switch, because he's never enjoyed the marketing end of the business.

On a positive note, Borgic comments his current staff is the best he has ever had — and sow performance is the best he has ever seen. Production figures bear that out, averaging 25-26 pigs/sow/year. Farrowing rate the last 10 weeks (as of mid-April) has averaged 91%, total born is 12.65 pigs/litter and weaning average is a solid 10-plus pigs/litter.

Because sow performance has been excellent, staff has culled 150 head, bringing sow inventory down to 2,850. “I need to produce 1,300 weaned pigs a week, and with our sow herd at 3,000, we were actually producing 1,350-1,375 pigs a week, so this reduction will cut that back.”

Borgic points out that there are reasons pork producers are reluctant to cull sows. Those 150 culled sows were in good condition and still only brought $95/head. His normal culls are only returning $75/head.

Harder culling of older sows has brought rewards, however. Culling the PIC herd first for structural soundness and second for performance issues has reduced average sow death loss to 7%. Lowering average herd parity and boosting replacement rate to about 60% have also enabled the farm to reduce pounds of feed/day fed to sows.

Borgic is part-owner in a gilt replacement business that reduces his cost of bringing in new breeding females.

Sow feed intake has been reduced by about 10% where females had adequate backfat. Gestating sows now average about 5.25 lb. of feed/day and lactating sows about 13.5 lb. of feed/day.

Feeders have been cranked down tight and any feed spillage is scooped up and returned to the feeders.

Borgic, president of the Illinois Pork Producers Association, says his biggest concern right now is the low price of wholesale pork. Packer margins are not that healthy, retail pork prices are the best bargain in the meat case, and the country appears headed toward a recession, worrying him that higher pork prices may lag and hog prices may remain stagnant.

The southern Illinois producer doesn't expect help from the state government. “Probably one of the biggest problems right now in Illinois is our dysfunctional government, accumulating nearly a billion-dollar deficit this year alone,” he points out.

When the state budget was passed recently, funding for the University of Illinois Extension and Soil Conservation Service were both axed by the governor, while at the same time he approved by executive order funding of a state health care program that wasn't passed by the state legislature.

State government shouldn't shortchange agriculture, which is vital to the state's future, Borgic believes.

The state is still a good place to raise hogs, too. Density is not an issue between Peoria to the north and Carlyle to the south. “Montgomery County, where I live, provides a good selling point for future growth: it's easy to find an isolated place from other farms,” he says.

Veterinary Practice A Strong Influence

In 1976, straight out of veterinary school, Joe Connor, DVM, joined and four years later purchased the mixed veterinary practice at Carthage, IL. In 1990, Connor converted it into a swine-exclusive practice: Carthage Veterinary Service (CVS), Ltd.

In the early days, Connor's largest client averaged just under 300 sows and most producers were farrow-to-finish. Today, but some of the small producers who survived are in the driver's seat because they raise their own corn and have a land base, he says. Clients range up to 100,000 sows.

Veterinary services at CVS evolved from a staff of one or two to today's staff of nine veterinarians, two staff nutritionists and a total office staff of 53.

Expanded staff help oversee Professional Swine Management (PSM), a family-based cooperative that provides weaned pigs for clients' farms from 2,500-6,000-sow pools. Multiplication systems to produce replacement gilts and boar studs to provide semen for breeding were added to provide a complete genetic program for thesed clients.

Consequently, client-owners have been able to take advantage of superior genetics and health to elevate the size and quality of their operations. Many producers receive batches of pigs to finish out every eight weeks or so, Connor notes. There are 250-300 farm families getting pigs who are involved with direct ownership of PSM.

“This was a natural transition for a number of these smaller family farms in the tri-state area we serve (Illinois, Iowa and Missouri), to allow them to increase their throughput by increasing the number of pigs they could finish at their one-site operations, while typically elevating health and capturing split-sex feeding and other technologies if they wanted to,” he explains.

CVS is charged with providing day-to-day management of those sow pools. Out of that production system has evolved a center for individual sow research, Headed by Laura Greiner, which is embedded in one of the sow farms.

Changes in the Practice

Over the years, biosecurity measures have expanded to include coverage of all forms of transportation, service providers, inanimate objects and even the use of filters to screen out pathogens.

Services offered through CVS have expanded into more of the diagnostics and records and environmental analyses, says Connor, and the veterinarian has been transformed into a swine consultant who coordinates other specialists in assisting producers.

Databases have emerged that help to combine and interpret health and production reports, and in the process, allow operations to begin predicting performance rather than just looking back at closeouts. New programs also track mortalities on a more current basis.

Segregated pig production in Illinois, as elsewhere, hasn't worked very well to eliminate health challenges like PRRS (porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome) or swine influenza virus (SIV).

PRRS can be eliminated on individual farms, but it has returned all too often for many producers. “The real unpredictability is area spread and high pig density. In south central Illinois, we are pretty fortunate that we've got a lot of sows, but we've got good separation from finishing to sows and some natural barriers to locate facilities with some protection,” says Connor.

All in all, health progress has been achieved in the CVS coverage area, Connor says. With use of vaccines to control porcine circovirus Type 2 and other co-infections, it is not unusual to see 97% marketability of pigs in the top 10% of closeout records.

That compares with about 92% marketability of pigs in the top tier of production records a few years ago.

Weaning age and weaning weight correlate well to finishing profitability, says Connor. Clients are bringing up the average and the minimum weaning age. “Most farms we work with are trying to stabilize weaning age as well (narrow the age spread).” Currently at 18-20 days, Connor says clients are zeroing in on a 21-day-average, and he expects that 23 days will be the next plateau.

Expanding Training Tools

At CVS, the technical support staff started out by simply looking at ways to educate and train farm staff, Connor recalls. Differences in low and high productivity are due to stockmanship and access to key information.

With that knowledge, support staff began development of key technical information across farm staffs and managers. Training modules feature web-based, educational programs including quizzes that work quite well for new-hire programs and include employee incentives, says Connor.

“A lot of technicians who supervise staffs on farms are not inherently good teachers, so this effort supplants that somewhat,” he says.

Recently developed educational CDs include farm safety and biosecurity. Today's production staffs need to know the proper precautions and steps to take in both areas, and why these issues are so critical to the farm's success, he emphasizes.

Moving to New Location

Starting sometime this fall, CVS and support staff will begin the move to renovated facilities at the site of the old Carthage College (See: “Carthage Group Expands Outreach Services,” page 34, Aug. 15, 2007 issue of National Hog Farmer) in the center of Carthage, IL.

The facilities will serve as an educational center for hog production, featuring scaled-down models of hog barns and equipment.

There will be no live animals in the training facilities, but production basics will be covered, including some new strategies on electronic sow feeding, biosecurity, the use of computerized monitoring equipment and detailed information on day-to-day facility management.

“We believe there is going to be continued, significant turnover at the farms, and our preparation for that is to use this center to develop and educate people as quickly as possible into becoming skilled, productive stock people,” Connor stresses.

Becoming Better Prepared

With today's economic downturn, clients are continually reviewing how they manage costs to optimize returns.

That amounts to looking at 50-cent-a-pig and dollar-a-pig strategies that producers forgot about because profitability was so good the last few years.

“We are talking to producers on a weekly basis about how to optimize slaughter weights,” he says.

Mandates have been issued to clients to control costs. A good example is the removal of feed antibiotics in grow-finish diets and reliance instead on preventative vaccines.

Stick-to-itiveness Will Prevail

Those are the famed words of Friedrich Nietzsche, a German philosopher of the late 19th century. They are often recited to someone who is enduring a particular hardship. It's meant to reinforce the human spirit, to reassure the recipient that the trials and tribulations overcome today will pay dividends in the future.

Nietzsche was an interesting fellow. He questioned many of the doctrines of his day, and offered some pretty radical thoughts about the traditional foundations that many measured their lives by in those days.

To use the phrase in the context of the pork industry and the many challenges it currently faces seems fitting. The lessons that will be learned from these hardships should come in the form of improved efficiency of feed utilization, more flexible use of alternatives to corn-based diets, greater use of benchmarking data to project future performance of groups of pigs, and new uses of nutrient-rich — perhaps energy-rich — swine manure.

The best possible outcome of these trying times will be the redoubled efforts of pork producers working with animal scientists and allied industry to carry the pork industry to the next level of efficient production of meat protein.

Master Mind

One of the most fascinating discussions I've had in some time came during an interview with Randy Stoecker, recently retired president of Murphy-Brown West. He is one of seven “Masters of the Pork Industry” featured in this issue.

Always the optimist, where others see gloom and doom, Stoecker sees challenges and opportunities for the industry to become even stronger, more competitive with other meat protein sources, domestically and globally.

“The only way to make serious change is to become totally disgusted with the status quo. Any tolerance for it will lead you right back to where you (currently) are,” he says flatly. “We really haven't had any innovation in about 20 years.”

For example, he asks, why do we change the air in hog buildings more frequently than we do in our own homes? Why do we heat large rooms and buildings? Couldn't we manage temperature in smaller zones or microenvironments? And, why don't we capture more of the pigs' body heat?

Good questions. With today's ever-increasing fuel prices, perhaps heat exchangers are worth another look. I installed one in the '80s and it worked pretty well. Surely, new technologies could make them more efficient today, not to mention the payback potential using skyrocketing fuel costs.

Stoecker openly admits to having more questions than answers. “I am quite comfortable talking about things that I have no real idea if they are possible or not. But, we will not be well-served if we just keep doing what we're doing.”

Where will these all-new insights come from?

Outsiders; people from other countries or other industries that can step away from our extensively standardized facilities and operating procedures to look at pork production through fresh, unbiased eyes.

If we can accomplish that, the changes the pork industry will see in the future will be more dramatic than the move to confinement, the adoption of artificial insemination, early weaning or many of the other advancements the industry has seen in recent decades. In doing so, Stoecker predicts that mastering today's production challenges could be “a watershed moment” for the industry.

A Substantive Challenge

I have been a part of the U.S. swine industry in one form or another for nearly five decades. I've seen sows moved into environmentally-controlled buildings to ensure their better care, nutrition and health. I've seen nearly every configuration of nursery and grow-finish facility there is. I've seen performance records and breeding programs refine the shape and composition of the modern meat type hog.

I've also seen pork producers and industry leaders take up a challenge time after time. I expect this is another of those times.

The industry - you - have done well.

We're in a tough stretch — no doubt about it. But there is a certain “stick-to-itiveness” in pig people that I've always admired. It's that dogged perseverance, the resolute tenacity to hang in there when things get especially tough.

Clearly, this industry has been tested before. Perhaps, never to this degree, but therein lies the challenge. Everyone in every business faces new paradigms in their personal and professional lives. Those who strive to overcome these tough odds will persevere.

There will be a U.S. pork industry in the future. The innovative thinkers and the tough spirits who are willing to tackle the challenge will ferret out what the industry will look like and how it will function in tomorrow's economic climate. Tough times will make us stronger.

Manure Value Grows As Fertilizer Costs Rise

The increasing march of fertilizer prices higher has given farmers a new appreciation for the value of manure, says the director of environmental services for The Maschhoffs, Carlyle, IL.

“The value of manure as fertilizer is higher than it has ever been,” reports Tim Laatsch. Some crop analysts suggest previous manure value of $50/acre is now approaching $150/acre.

“We are continuing to see intense interest in manure as a fertilizer resource, not just due to the cost of fertilizer, but the product being better managed than it has been in the past,” he says.

Five years ago, when Laatsch started with The Maschhoffs, there were virtually no takers. Today, area crop farmers next to Maschhoff hog production partners are clamoring for the valuable resource.

That's led The Maschhoffs to pump up their custom manure application business. “As manure value is on the rise, we are striving to remain intently focused on providing a high-quality fertilizer product.

“We have steered away from the typical high-volume commodity approach,” says Laatsch.

“What we have done instead is try to package a complete environmental service under one umbrella — providing the farmer with the agronomist/crop consultant, writing the nutrient management plans, doing the soil sampling and making sure we are closely matching the manure products with the crop needs.”

Laatsch says his team helps educate farmers on state environmental regulations including application rates.

On-board computer technology ensures manure application isn't lapped or areas skipped.

Most dragline hose systems don't cover end rows because the plow is raised out of the ground as the tractor turns around. The problem is the pump is left running, resulting in surface application, notes Laatsch.

“What we've done is put radio controls on our equipment, with a control module in the tractor, so when the operator gets to the end of the field, he hits a button that sends a radio signal to slow the pump back at the barn. The operator then shuts off the valve on the plow, turning off the flow of manure,” he explains.

“Farmers like that because they don't have to come back and do any touchup or worry about missed areas on end rows, and they have less risk from odor and runoff, adds Laatsch.

He says manure application rules in Illinois are structured in a way that farmers are actually incented to follow the rules.

EQIP Model

While several states have reportedly had difficulty obtaining Environmental Quality Improvement Program (EQIP) funds from USDA, Illinois has been held up as a sort of model for the program, Laatsch comments.

Unlike other states that have localized application systems, Illinois has taken a centralized approach to program administration and applications. Illinois' Natural Resources Conservation Service conducted some pilot programs to define eligible practices and learn how funds are administered and distributed.

“In Illinois, all of the producers compete for a pool of money at the state level instead of trying to tap into county dollars,” says Laatsch. “This has enabled pork producers to position themselves especially well for the dollars.”

In 2006, 35 pork producers in Illinois received $3.6 million in EQIP dollars, the largest amount of all livestock species.

Sow Mortality Challenges Persist

Unlike the severe reproductive losses associated with the first case of PRRS (porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome), and the very high grow-finish mortality seen with porcine circovirus Type 2, sow mortality can be a slow, insidious problem.

As the swine industry evolved, sow mortality rates gradually increased. Concern with increasing sow deaths heightened in the mid- to late-1990s. Sow loss in several herds climbed from target levels of 3-5% to 10-20%.

Investigations found problems often to be multi-factorial and frustrating to try and isolate a primary cause.

Following are three case studies of herds with high sow mortality.

Case Study No. 1

A 750-sow, farrow-to-finish, one-site herd in Indiana flows pigs all-in, all-out through rooms. This PRRS-positive herd has had only one period with a slight increase in abortions in the past six years. The herd consists of York-Landrace females produced internally. Gestation facilities include a combination of stalls and pens, with most sows gestated in stalls.

In 2001, sow mortality was 9.7%. The death rate decreased in 2002 to 6% with no specific changes. However, in 2003, 11.1% of the sows died. Because of the work reported with antibiotics in lactation diets decreasing sow mortality, chlortetracycline was added to those diets. Several sows and gilts died during or after difficulty farrowing.

A genetic change was made and more effort placed on maternal traits in the selection of replacement animals. An improved gilt development program ensured a high percentage of gilts had heat-no-serve dates assuring better size at the time of farrowing.

Sow mortality for 2005, 2006 and 2007 has been much improved at 3.7%, 4.9% and 3.1%, respectively. It's likely this herd's high sow mortality was related to several factors linked to genetics and gilt development.

In addition, personnel changes contributed to the improvement. We are considering removing the lactation antibiotic and monitoring for any subsequent change in sow mortality.

Case Study No. 2

A 600-sow, breed-to-wean herd decided to change genetic sources. The sow herd is positive to PRRS virus and Mycoplasmal pneumonia. High-health gilts were purchased. They were isolated off-site and unsuccessfully inoculated with the farm's PRRS virus; therefore, gilts and sows were vaccinated with modified-live PRRS virus vaccine. Gilts were bred off-site and moved to the sow farm at farrowing. Several gilts went off feed at farrowing. In addition, the progeny of affected gilts showed respiratory signs and performed poorly. Nasal swabs collected from the gilts and their offspring were positive for H3N2 swine influenza virus. Some gilts died.

It was recommended that remaining gilts be vaccinated for swine influenza virus. Problems and gilt mortality continued; a gilt was submitted to the diagnostic lab. Several infectious organisms were identified. It became clear that gilts had not developed adequate immunity to the bacteria and viruses they were being exposed to in the sow herd. Nearly 10% gilt mortality occurred over a two-month period. Additional vaccination and antibiotic therapy finally reduced death loss.

An extensive gilt development plan was recommended. In addition, gilts will be moved to the sow herd once space is available.

In this situation, pathogens caused considerable mortality. Gilts were likely more susceptible because of the exposure at farrowing. Introducing gilts from high-health herds into more conventional sow herds can cause reproductive problems, although acute loss like this case usually doesn't occur.

Case Study No. 3

A breed-to-wean sow herd expanded and converted a wide grower barn to stall gestation. A center inlet from a duct built to the roof was one of the fresh air sources for the barn. The first summer the barn was in use, very high outside temperatures occurred early in the season. A fogger cooling system was not entirely functional at that time. Because the duct was not insulated and tightly sealed, and had a large surface area, incoming air actually increased the room temperature.

Late-term pregnant sows were in the center rows of the wide gestation barn, and high losses occurred due to heat stress. The ventilation system was modified to tunnel with cool cells and heat-stress mortalities stopped.

Summary

Many factors can be involved in increased sow mortality including management, nutrition, genetics, environment and disease. Often, multiple factors will be involved. It is always essential that daily individual animal observation be practiced. Being proactive can reduce sow mortality. Providing the best care possible for the sow is a welfare obligation, in addition to an economic necessity.

Know Your Competition

Know Your Competition

With weekly slaughter numbers running routinely above year-ago levels, feed costs running at exorbitantly high levels and U.S. consumers counting every penny, it may be difficult for pork producers to look beyond their current financial stresses.

Still, with a growing reliance on export markets, it is imperative that U.S. pork producers consider their longer-term competitiveness in the international marketplace.

In an effort to gain perspective of the global pork market, let's take a closer look at the leading pork producing and consuming nations and consider where U.S. pork fits.

The China Effect

The explosion of meat prices in China, which began in 2007, has attracted widespread media and political attention. “Official” hog and pork prices, one of the major contributors to overall inflation, have skyrocketed since May 2006 (Figure 1).

In February 2008, China's overall consumer price index (CPI) rose to 8.7%, a record high in the last decade, while food prices rose by a staggering 23% year-on-year.

The price sensitivity of Chinese consumers has been well documented. This sensitivity, and their preference for fresh vs. frozen pork, has largely limited export opportunities for U.S. pork to China.

Domestic pork has historically been one of China's most affordable protein sources, but the recent price spike has forced Chinese consumers to look for substitute, low-cost animal proteins. Some cuts of imported pork and, particularly, U.S. poultry leg quarters, have become more attractive animal protein alternatives. The fact that imported U.S. pork is cheaper than domestic pork in the Chinese market may surprise many industry participants (Figure 2).

From a supply perspective, no one really knows how much the Chinese swine herd has contracted. Some sources indicate one million sows have been removed from the nation's breeding herd. Other reports note the total number of pigs (all sizes), estimated at 495 million in 2006, has been trimmed by 20%.

While the debate over the degree to which these declines have been caused by disease, higher feed prices, the cyclicality of hog production and other structural changes (i.e. consolidation as backyard farmers exit the industry), it is generally agreed that all four factors have played a part. More recently, severe winter weather also impacted supplies. At best, it will take a number of breeding cycles for domestic production to show signs of recovery, especially given high feed costs and ongoing disease constraints.

Make no mistake, the Chinese government has made a significant investment in the domestic pork sector, and it will continue its efforts to revitalize the industry. From a political and social perspective, it cannot afford to displace the rural population at a faster rate than is already occurring.

Specific government programs have included direct subsidies for sows, insurance for sows and hogs, free vaccines, the development of a pork futures market, restrictions on corn usage, transport assistance and stricter controls on packers. In addition, food security remains a key government initiative.

Regardless of what has caused this situation, it is clear that China needs more meat. Put simply, China remains too close to the edge in terms of juggling inventory/reserves and growing demand. The question that remains is how they will meet their protein needs. They have two alternatives and, to date, both have been pursued:

  1. Encourage domestic pork production; also support poultry, and to a lesser extent, beef. Significant amounts of corn and soybeans will be imported.

  2. Mexico's Domestic Production Contracts

  3. China will be forced to import meat, even though it is not their preferred solution. They will continue to restrict market access based on food safety concerns, which is viewed by many as thinly veiled protectionism. Competition among potential meat exporters to China is already intense. Anticipated trade agreements between China and countries such as Brazil and Argentina will only serve to heighten this competition.

Regardless of where China actually purchases pork, the pull on global supplies is likely to create opportunities for pork exporters in 2008 and beyond.

The Mexican market has traditionally been very important to the United States. In particular, it has been a key buyer of U.S. hams.

Unfortunately, 2007 proved to be a slow year for U.S. exports to Mexico. A “normal” year could have cut significantly into overall U.S. export volumes.

The easiest explanation of what happened in the Mexican market in 2007 is that domestic production was up. The high price of feed encouraged Mexican producers to rush hogs to market and even to sell off breeding stock (Figure 3). Consequently, there was more domestic pork on the market.

Russian Production on An Upswing

Assuming that the number of Mexican hog producers has now fallen, it would be reasonable to assume that there will be a reduction in the number of Mexican hogs marketed in 2008, and the slack in supply will be filled by an increase in imported pork.

In the past, the number of pork producers would have fluctuated according to market conditions. However, as the Mexican pork industry matures, it is increasingly less likely that producers will come back into the market as prices pick up. Rather, between imports and larger producers expanding production, there will be no room for old players. The industry will become more concentrated, which will push existing players to adapt their business models.

Russia is one of the world's largest importers of meat, and has been for some time. In 2006, Russia imported 3.18 million tons of beef, pork and poultry.

But anyone who has spent more than a few years in the meat industry will understand the split personality often ascribed to Russia as a major meat importer. It is known to be a particularly fickle market. What might be less well known is that Russia is also one of the world's largest producers of meat, and that it has established aggressive, industry-wide targets to increase domestic production and reduce dependence on imports.

While Russia has historically been a country of meat eaters, consumption of meat has declined dramatically in the post-Soviet years, dropping from 172 lb. per capita in 1988, to around 130 lb. today. The downturn in consumption, attributed to price rises following the collapse of the outdated Russian agricultural sector, led to a massive decline in so-called backyard livestock. This caused rapid price inflation for meat, which became unaffordable to the impoverished nation.

More recently, solid economic growth has begun to spur meat consumption and, when combined with meat price increases, has made Russia a very attractive market for pork exporters, especially for lower-value trimmings and offal.

Prices in this market are highly dependent on access, and the Russian government has been known to ban imports from certain countries when the price of some popular cuts gets to levels they believe are too high. However, there are signs that the government may be a little less inclined to use this “trick.” In the current tight protein market, competition with China for U.S. poultry leg quarters in 2007 serves as a very good example.

Russia does not have a pleasant history with being import-dependent for food. The Russian industry is looking to almost double its domestic pork production between now and 2012 (Figure 4). Energy, oil and gas conglomerates have been “encouraged” to diversify into agricultural production. Investment in agriculture is viewed as a sign of patriotism.

Proximity to feed

Remember the first law of international economics — as a net exporter of grain, the United States remains at a competitive advantage to net importing countries. This is in spite of the U.S. biofuel mandate, which effectively acts as a regressive tax on livestock production.

  • Capital availability

    This may seem like a reckless comment to make in light of the current economic conditions. While the cost and availability of financial capital is undoubtedly more constrained than it was just 12 months ago, U.S. agriculture remains well placed to access capital over the long term.

  • Packer efficiency

    U.S. pork packers are at the forefront of technology adoption and product development. They also benefit greatly from economies of scale.

  • Relatively open access to domestic and export demand

    U.S. pork is currently exported to more than 100 countries.

  • An integrated (and consolidated) value chain

    The timely and frictionless matching of supply and demand is the sign of a well-functioning market. A high level of industry integration ensures flexibility, speed and coordination.

  • But the 64-million-dollar question remains: If not in North America, where would you invest in the hog industry?